Imagine having unlimited access to a state-of-the-art recording studio and be blessed with the talent, creativity, and expertise to engineer, mix, produce and master a musical masterpiece at your own pace (three years to be exact). As the owner of My Sonic Temple Studios in Los Angeles, California guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Johannes Luley has done just that with his 2013 release “Tales From Sheepfather's Grove”.
German born Luley grew up near Frankfurt, German where progressive rock was highly regarded, and popular genre bands like Eloy, Amon Duul II, Ash Ra Temple, Can, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Grobscnitt, Guru Guru, Hoelderlin, Jane, SFF, and Triumvirat were making an indelible mark on the German progressive scene.
And although it was the British bands like Yes and Genesis which greatly influenced him, Luley insists it was David Gilmore and Pink Floyd who drove his obsession. And after an extensive study of music theory and listening to the techniques of guitarists like David Gilmore, Jeff Beck, Steve Howe, Pat Metheny, Steve Hillage, Wes Montgomery and Roy Buchannan, Luley eventually developed his own style; which on this album is quite melodic and introspective.
Over the course of his career Luley, who is the founder and driving force behind the symphonic progressive group Moth Vellum (and the upcoming new progressive band Perfect Beings), has produced two Grammy nominated albums, wrote the film-score for the films “How I Got Lost”, “The Space Between Us” and “Nailpolish” and produced the soundtrack for the film “Unscripted”. He has also scored assorted commercials, and performed as a sessions player on about a dozen recordings – one of which was “Moody Blues Classics” with Justin Hayward.
Johannes Luley's life's experience as both musician and producer is brilliantly translated onto “Tales From Sheepfather's Grove” much like the recordings of legendary producer Alan Parsons – namely “Eye In The Sky” and the Alan Parson's Project instrumental compilation album “The Instrumental Works”.
The production values are exceptionally warm and inviting. Luley does not subscribe to the “louder is better” school of thought that permeates the recording industry. I haven't treated my eardrums this well for quite some time. Thankfully artists like Ian Anderson (“Thick As A Brick 2”) and The Flower Kings (“Banks Of Eden”) are once again striving for the warm audio fidelity associated with a vinyl record in lieu of the harsh dynamics associated with digital CDs.
“Tales From Sheepfather's Grove” combines equal parts symphonic progressive rock with ambient New Age, eclectic world music, and folk, culminating in a cinematic experience which should please prog/rock aficionados who grew up listening to expansive side long concept albums.
As a source of reference I'd suggest Jon Anderson's 1976 solo album “Olias Of Sunhillow” and his collaborations with keyboardist Vangelis (“The Friends Of Mr. Cairo”, “Short Stories”, “Page Of Life” and “Private Collection”). Other comparisons can be made to the collective works of Austrian multi-instrumentalist Heinz Stobl – aka - Gandalf (“Journey To An Imaginary Land”, “Visions”, “To Another Horizon”, and “Gallery Of Dreams” with Steve Hackett), the new age recordings of David Arkenstone, the early albums of Mike Oldfield (“Hergest Ridge”, “Ommadawn”, and “Incantations”), Jade Warrior, the acoustic guitar work of both Anthony Phillips and Steve Howe, as well as the ethereal moments of Yes.
Familiar echoes of the Yes tunes “Awaken” and “Turn Of The Century” come to mind on the tracks “Suite: Atheos Spiritualis” and “Voya”. Luley uses electric guitar sparingly, but when he does I detect much more of a Steve Howe influence in the music than his old idol David Gilmore. And the more I listen to the album the stronger the Yes references become. Other Yes references can be made to their track “Angkor Wat” from the Union album as well as the closing moment of the tune “Birthright” from the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album. The driving tribal rhythm at the conclusion of “Birthright” is similar to the hand held percussion Luley employes throughout “The Sheepfather's Grove” and the tracks “Suite: Atheos Spiritualis” and “Voya”. Minimal percussion – but when used is quite effective. And the use of hand held percussion seems more in keeping with the spirit of the music then a conventional drum kit.
Even the cover art designed by Harout Demirchyan for “The Sheepfather's Grove” is a subliminal reminder of vintage Yes, harkening back to the amazing covers by artist Roger Dean.
“Both “Suite: Atheos Spiritualis” and “Voya” are the musical highlight of the album. They close out the album with a sense of exotic mysticism and spirit healing euphoria.
Other stand-out tracks include the light and airy ballad “Moments” which might well have been an outtake from Jon Anderson's “Olias Of Sunhillow” recording sessions.
With apologies to Jon Anderson's masculinity – Luley's use of female vocalists and choral arrangements makes the Yes references all the more apparent. But strangely enough I also detect echoes of the early works of new age artist Enya on the track “Stab The Sea” which features the melodic chants of Sianna Lyons and Robin Hathaway.
Stephanie Bennett's beautiful concert harp on the track “Give And take” brings to mind another new age classic album “White Winds” from artist Andreas Vollenweider.
The line-up for the album includes Johannes Luley (lead vocals, back-up vocals, electric bass, electric guitars, acoustic nylon and gut-string guitars, cuatro, santur, Marquesan ukelele, banjo, cymbals, tambourine, sleigh bells, castanets, monkey drum, bodhran, bongos, woodblock, triangle, temple bells, djembe, cowbells, keyboards, orchestral and choral arrangements), Sianna Lyons (chanting), Robin Hathaway (vocals and vocal harmony), Kristina Sattler (harmony vocals) and Stephanie Bennet (concert harp).
A beautiful album well worth adding to your music library.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on May 17th, 2013